September 9, 2016

Rejoice in the Lord

Freedom always involves responsibility

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

“An authentic faith … always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this Earth somehow better than we found it. We love this magnificent planet on which God has put us, and we love the human family which dwells here, with all its tragedies and struggles, its hopes and aspirations, its strengths and weaknesses. … If indeed ‘the just ordering of society and of the state is a central responsibility of politics,’ the Church, ‘cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice.’ ”
(“Evangelii Gaudium,” #183)

Just two months from now, on Election Day, we will be asked to make some serious choices. We who are Catholics and citizens of the United States of America have an obligation to participate in this important process, and to make sure that we understand the issues that are at stake and the consequences our choices will have for the good of all our sisters and brothers here in the U.S. and throughout the world.

Candidates for public office may inspire or disappoint us in a variety of ways, but our choices should not be based on prejudice or emotion. We should vote according to our consciences based on the best information we have available to us, and in consideration of the moral values that define who we are as “missionary disciples” called to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ into the lives of others.

The world of politics and public affairs often presents a challenge to clear thinking and right judgment. It isn’t easy to tell what the right answers are to serious questions that confront us as we seek to make responsible choices on Election Day.

I don’t have a crystal ball, so my choices in the voting booth are as good (or bad) as anyone else’s. What I do have is a clear and consistent guide to faithful decision-making. This guide is, of course, the Bible and 2,000 years of Church teaching on issues that are fundamental to living according to God’s plan for individuals and communities. The task of faithful citizenship, which we face now and in every election year, is to apply these basic principles of Catholic social teaching to the concrete circumstances of today.

To help us in this often complex process, the bishops of the United States have provided us with a useful framework called “Forming Conscience for Faithful Citizenship” (available online at This publication identifies several serious issues that are at stake in this election.

The bishops do not tell us whom to vote for, but they do advise us on the moral principles that must be applied to each major issue. Then it’s up to us to study the positions of candidates and the platforms of political parties, and determine where they stand in relationship to fundamental moral values.

This year’s list of critical issues is fairly long:

  • The ongoing destruction of more than 1 million innocent human lives each year by abortion;
  • Physician-assisted suicide;
  • The redefinition of marriage—the vital cell of society—by the courts, political bodies, and increasingly by American culture itself;
  • The excessive consumption of material goods and the destruction of natural resources, which harm both the environment and the poor;
  • The deadly attacks on fellow Christians and religious minorities throughout the world;
  • The narrowing redefinition of religious freedom, which threatens both individual conscience and the freedom of the Church to serve society;
  • Economic policies that fail to prioritize the poor, at home or abroad;
  • A broken immigration system and a worldwide refugee crisis;
  • Wars, terror and violence that threaten every aspect of human life and dignity.

Obviously, these are complex issues, but Catholics who are faithful citizens need to understand what’s at stake here, and we need to vote according to our informed consciences.

An informed conscience is one that looks beyond political correctness and the ideologies of the left and the right to find the truth. An informed conscience is open to the ideas of others, welcomes serious and respectful debate, and refuses to allow prejudices and emotions to distract us from voting for people and programs that promote the common good.

During the next several weeks—between now and Election Day—I plan to devote this weekly column to reflections on the issues listed above.

I won’t tell you whom to vote for (at the present moment I’m not sure myself), but I will point out some things that all of us must take very seriously.

In the end, I hope you’ll find these reflections helpful as you carry out your responsibilities as faithful citizens of this great nation. †

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